The NBA Could Use a New Logo, But It Shouldn’t Be Kobe
Kyrie Irving wants Kobe Bryant on the front of every NBA jersey. Here's why it shouldn't happen.
Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving posted this to his Instagram yesterday:
After Kobe Bryant passed last January, 3.2 million people signed a petition at change.org to make the Los Angeles Lakers legend’s likeness the new NBA logo. The movement didn’t gain too much traction at the time — the NBA was in mourning, and not long after, it had to negotiate the arrival of the pandemic. Now, a year later, Irving seems determined to revive the discussion.
“As a native Black man, as a native Black king, it’s part of my responsibility to continue to push our generation, our culture, forward,” Irving said after a Nets win last night. “My thing is paying homage to the example that has been set by that man … I think he deserves it. I think his family deserves it. I think we deserve it as seeing greatness personified as Mamba.”
Irving was close with Bryant. Famously so: after draining the clutchest shot of his life to help the Cleveland Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA Finals, Iriving FaceTimed Bryant before celebrating with his dad or sister. It’s impossible, of course, for any one of us to understand the nature of that friendship, or the grief Irving has endured over the last 12 months. We respect the admiration Irving has for his late mentor.
That said, if the NBA changes its logo — which it should — Bryant simply cannot be its new avatar.
Bryant was arrested in July 2003 on charges of sexual assault at a hotel in Edwards, Colorado. He had been in the state for a scheduled surgery; he ended up having an adulterous sexual encounter with a 19-year-old employee, who showed up to a police station the next day with a bruised neck and vaginal trauma. Two years of legal battles ensued, with the accuser deciding not to testify in court. She ended up filing a civil lawsuit, which was settled in 2005. The Los Angeles Times estimates Bryant paid her somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 million.
We don’t talk about this story enough. Today, especially, after Bryant’s untimely passing, it just doesn’t fit the deification narrative. When Gayle King broached the subject in an interview last year, Snoop Dogg released a viral, expletive-laden video, punctuated by the line: “How dare you try to tarnish my motherfucking homeboy’s reputation?” There is a somewhat militant delusion surrounding Bryant’s mythos — the #MambaMentality apparently isn’t eligible for scrutiny by the #MeTooMovement.
Bryant didn’t need to lead the league in scoring 10 more times for his pesky sexual assault case to fade away. His controversy arrived at a time when a survivor’s refusal to testify meant she had to be lying. It’s taken years of progress (and we still have so far to go) for society to understand the trauma of publicly reliving the worst moments of your life while the other, generally far-more-powerful side spends hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to discount your story, name and character.
There’s little question that Bryant is an NBA legend. He won five rings. He won two Olympic gold medals. He scored 81 points in a single outing — the most in any game of last 60 years. But the League has so many ambassadors, so many role models, leaders and heroes, so many other examples of Black excellence who could just as well replace Jerry West without the cloud of abuse that has plagued professional sports for far too long.
Consider another corner of the sports world. Over this past week, New York Yankees players have grappled with the return of Domingo German, the starting pitcher who was suspended all of last season for an incident of domestic violence with his girlfriend. They haven’t minced words. One of his fellow pitchers, Zach Britton, even said, “You don’t always get to choose your teammates.”
Would we grant Bryant the same cultural clemency if he were a schoolteacher, a plumber, a neighbor down the road? Irving is right. It’s time to replace the logo; 73% of the NBA is comprised of Black players, and the logo should reflect that fact. Even West agrees. Back in 2017, he said, “I think if I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it. I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself. If they would want to change it, I wish they would. In many ways, I wish they would.”
Irving concluded by saying: “This needs to happen. I don’t care what anyone says.” But even if every single player in the League were to support this exact change, what of the rest of us? And is putting Kobe Bryant on every single player’s jersey for forever really the only way to honor him? The NBA has a real opportunity for generational change here. Bryant isn’t the answer. You can’t choose your teammates. Well, we can’t choose the dribbling man on the front of our jerseys, either.
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